Review Summary: Barwick’s lush ambience reaches new heights.
Last summer, taking inspiration from Brian Eno’s seminal Ambient 1: Music for Airports
, NYC hotel Sister City collaborated with Julianna Barwick on an interactive score for their lobby. Pre-recorded sounds from Barwick were played in response to visual stimuli above the roof—the moon, clouds passing, birds flying overhead—creating a living, breathing soundtrack. They couldn’t have chosen a better artist than Barwick: her music envelops the listener in a whirlpool of angelic voices that pulls you into a serene and inviting abyss. On her new album Healing Is a Miracle
, her art has reached a new zenith. It lives up to its title as a profoundly soothing and beautiful work.
is not altogether much different than her other releases—her layered voice loops are still her main instrument of choice, often swirling together with placid synthezers, soft piano, or delicate strings. Three collaborative tracks shake up the formula in intriguing ways: Mary Lattimore weaves her elegant harp with barely-there piano and cascading choirs on “Oh, Memory”, and Jónsi‘s subdued vocals harmoniously swirl around Barwick's on “In Light”, which nestles skittering percussion and glitched samples into a dramatically building six minutes not dissimilar from her guest’s flagship post-rock. Final track “Nod” sees producer Nosaj Thing adding his moody analog synths and creeping drum loops to Barwick’s reverbed sighs, a superb marriage that darkens her usually empyrean sound. Elsewhere, she dives headfirst into her established aesthetic with confident vigor. Opener “Inspirit” and the ghostly “Wishing Well” are ethereal, unfurling choral pieces that are quintessential Barwick, and the aptly-titled “Safe” features enraptured singing that builds into a contemplative, transcendent climax over a rumbling synth, the yearning melody twisting around you like a cocoon.
Barwick is an artist that, for the most part, you know roughly what to expect. As searching and celestial as her voice and melodies can be, she seems content with her sound, not in a hurry to mess with a good thing. Healing
is heavily reminiscent of her previous work, but Barwick advances her sound in small but crucial ways: the sturdier application of synthesizers and percussion, more explorations into tension and unease (the genuinely unsettling “Flowers”, the aforementioned “Nod”), prominent guests that beautifully compliment her divine vocals and refresh the formula. While prior releases felt ten minutes too long and had an occasional tendency to wallow in amorphous clouds of voice and synth pads, the lean 33-minute run time on Healing
exhibits a more immediate approach to her wondrous soundscapes, making this a perfect entry point into her catalogue.
I became hooked on Barwick’s music when I was driving home one night from a new job and got lost: it was 11pm in an unfamiliar rural area, and I was listening to her 2013 album Nepenthe
. Her warmly embracing voice and stirring ambient compositions assuaged my tired irritation into a palpable feeling of calmness; being lost became something of a delight, and I drove around until the album finished. It’s that spirit that made her a perfect choice for soundtracking a hotel lobby in New York City, and it’s also a large part of why Healing Is a Miracle
stands as yet another excellent release from Barwick. It’s a gorgeous, immense respite, her divine ambience exposed to new, subtle shades of light and dark. Her empathetic music reaches out from miles away, a beacon to guide you home.